Geographies in Depth

How will we feed 9 billion in 2050?

Lisa Dreier
Managing Director, Advanced Leadership Initiative, Harvard University
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In the last week, three new numbers have redefined where we stand in global food security.

The first number is 870 million. This is the new estimate of the number of hungry people on Earth, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And while it is still terribly high, it is lower than we had previously thought. It shows that we are making progress.

The second number is 1.4%. This is the increase in the global food price index, also calculated by FAO, in the month of September. Droughts in key producing areas have made cereals, meat and dairy more expensive – driving prices uncomfortably close to the crisis levels of 2008 and 2011. This shows us that we are still in the danger zone, with a global food system that is vulnerable to shocks and volatility.

The third number is 6 million. This is the “not so good news” behind our stabilizing global hunger levels. It is the average increase in the number of hungry people in Africa each year since 2008. While hunger has declined in Asia and Latin America, it continues to increase in Africa. This shows us that some global challenges are affecting Africa more intensely – including food and economic crises and climate change.

These three numbers tell us that, while the world is making progress, significant additional effort is needed to develop a reliable and sustainable global food system that provides nourishment for all. The world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed our growing population – but it will have to do so using fewer resources. We will have to find new ways to produce more with less, and ensure the benefits are available to all.

That concept lies at the heart of the New Vision for Agriculture, an initiative engaging a diverse array of global and regional leaders through the World Economic Forum. The vision holds that agriculture should provide food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity to society. This can be achieved if all stakeholders work together to transform entire value chains and regions. The private sector is an important partner in this effort, working in coordination with other stakeholders to bring innovations, efficiencies and much-needed investments to improve agriculture systems.

Our partners are working to make the vision a reality through partnerships and investment commitments in 11 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Our Grow Africa partnership helped to mobilize US$ 3 billion in private-sector commitments to invest in African agriculture, as part of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. In Mexico, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, global and local companies are working with government, civil society and farmers’ groups to improve the productivity, sustainability and quality of specific crops.

These partnerships help the different stakeholders in the agriculture sector come together, develop a joint action agenda and coordinate efforts and investments to accelerate action. Sustainably increasing food production will help reduce hunger not only by providing more food supplies, but also by improving incomes of farmers and others along the value chain. Truly fulfilling that vision will help to reduce global hunger, one day, to nearly zero.Lisa Dreier is Director of Food Security and Development Initiatives at the World Economic Forum.

Author: Lisa Dreier is Director of Food Security and Development Initiatives at the World Economic Forum.

Image: A woman buys tomatoes at a market in Ivory Coast. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon 

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